I knew you'd be asking!
Okay, maybe you weren't. "A Game of Murder," the third in my Community of Faith Mysteries, is getting closer to publication. I'd hoped to be able to offer it for sale a month ago, but it's taking longer than I thought to revise. It always takes longer than I think it will.
An author and her book go through stages in their relationship. With me, out of the bleakness of the I'll-never-be-able-to-write-another-book-again phase, I'll read a newspaper article or see a television show or overhear a snippet of conversation and get an idea. I'm sure it is the best idea ever!
For a few days or weeks or months (it all depends on what else is going on in my life, where I'm at with the current or last book, etc.), other pieces come to me. At this stage, I start writing things down, either in a new notebook or a new section of one I've already started for the series. I poke around the Internet, doing "research." I bookmark web pages, save photos of people who look like they could be my characters, follow lots of rabbit trails from interesting things I find. It's forming a mental, physical, and electronic collage of what this new story might be. I'm in love with the story.
As I get closer to writing, I set up a Scrivener project, start creating virtual index cards for each scene, move the research into the project. The index cards form my outline for the story. I'll usually sit down with my story notebook and interview my main characters, write sketches that reveal to me what makes them tick.
I'll cycle around research, plotting, and developing characters for a while until I can't wait any longer to start writing. This is the fun part--when it's going well. This is the part where my muse gets to really play. I read the first index card, then envision what's happening in that scene and type fast. I can write thousands of words a day now when I'm in this phase.
Until I read the next index card and the words on it say something like "things get worse" or "there's another murder." Or, worse, I realize there's a big hole between what I've already written and the next card. Sometimes my muse is cooperative and supplies me with the missing pieces on the fly. Sometimes I have to go back to the research-plotting-character phase to find out what happens next. So, while I can easily type 50,000 words in a month, I can't necessarily write 50,000 words in a month. I'm having my doubts about the story.
With "A Game of Murder," those holes got limited treatment. Some got skipped over entirely. Some I didn't see until I was done writing the first draft. At times I had the proverbial round hole with nothing but a square peg to put in it. It takes time to make a round peg, which was what I was working on last month. I'm sure this is the worst novel I've ever written.
Finally, with round pegs in hand (or mind), I started a total read-through of the rough draft a couple of weeks ago. I read my novel like a book, as quickly as I can, making notes with a pen on inconsistencies, repetitions, omissions of things I thought I put in but can't find, etc. I'm not sure this story is going to work at all. I'm tempted to give up, but I've got so much time invested in it, it's so close to being finished, I keep plugging.
Once that's done, solutions discovered for the problems--at least in part--I use Margie Lawson's EDITS system to analyze the writing. As I've written before, this consists of marking different parts of the writing in different colors so I can see where I have big blocks of description or narrative or dialogue and break them up. It's also where I discover that my characters are always smiling or nodding or chewing on their lips. And where I've written a cliche that needs to be revised to something new and fresh. That's where I am now. I'm starting to see the potential in this story again.
But, from experience, I know there's a lot of time-consuming work ahead. Finding just the right verb to replace the weak verb with the adverb means spending time with the thesaurus and trying different combinations. Most of those cliches take time to replace. I have to come up with several alternatives before hitting on the one that resonates. I have to re-envision what my settings and characters look like, often going back to earlier books to check on what color a character's car is or whether I've described the furniture in a room before so I don't replace a sectional with a loveseat.
I plan to start that phase on Monday.
After that will be beta readers and proofreading and formatting and adding another gorgeous Karen Phillips cover. I'm assuming it will be gorgeous because her covers always are. I've contacted her, but she hasn't started designing it yet. She's waiting for me.
So, instead of having the next book in my Community of Faith Mysteries published by the end of April, my new goal is August 29th. If what happened with "Shadow of Death" is any indication, by that time "A Game of Murder" will once again be my best book ever!